“The only worthwhile striving is after the highest ideals: If you aim for an easy target, your standard will inevitably decline, and no progress is ever made, except through real effort and real suffering.” - Servant of God Fra' Andrew Bertie                                                                                                                                                 "Work as if everything depends on you, pray as if everything depends on God" - Saint Ignatius of Loyola

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REPORT AND HOMILY FOR THE FEAST OF OUR LADY OF PHILERMO

The vestments bearing the arms of the late Grand Prior, Fra' Fredrik Crichton-Stuart,
which were worn for the first time at this Mass. They were the presented to him just before his death
 by Monsieur Arthur van der Straeten. They were made in Lyons.
THE FEAST was kept with splendour in the Conventual Church, in the presence, for the first time, of the Grand Prior elect, Ian Scott of Ardross, with the propers of the Mass sung to the setting from Byrd's Gradualia, and the Gloria and Incarnatus from Mozart's Coronation Mass. The President of BASMOM, HE Mr Charles Weld was also present. During the solemn censing of the Icon of Our Lady of Philermo, the antiphon Inviolata was sung to chant, following the ancient practice of the Knights in Malta, where it was sung at the end of every Conventual Mass on Sundays and major feasts.  

Our Lady of Philermo, pray for us.
Monsignor ANTONY CONLON, Chaplain of the Grand Priory of England, delivered the homily at the Victory Mass in the Conventual Church. The text is given below, click "read more" for the full text.
Nature has endowed the sea-harbour around Malta with contours and depth that make it one of the best naturally-sheltered inlets in the world. The Holy Roman Emperor Charles V may not have known this when he decided to grant the island to the Knights of Malta in 1527 but he must have been aware of its strategic position, close to Sicily and Africa and at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. What he did expect – and he was to be proved right – was that the new defenders would be tenacious, courageous and resourceful in its defence. Above all these virtues they would also demonstrate an unshakeable attachment to the ancient faith, at that time being assailed across parts of Europe by new and variously subjective religious theories. Unable to undertake the task of defence of the extremities of the Mediterranean because of hostilities against his own dominions from the French King and the German Protestant princes, the Emperor saw the Knights as the only possible reliable and consistent means of resistance to the Ottoman ambitions to encircle Europe from the east. In many respects the island was a most inhospitable outpost with poor cultivation prospects and uncertain sources of fresh water. Yet, due to the determination and character and ability of its Grand Masters, the Order transformed this mostly barren, almost treeless outcrop of islands into an almost impregnable fortress for the defence Christian Europe that survived assault for nearly 300 years. That was not necessarily the outcome anticipated by the Order when it first arrived in Malta. Already in his 70’s when he took possession of the new territory, the then Grand Master de L’Isle Adam, considered the move temporary and in his remaining few years in office he longed always to return to Rhodes, whose loss he never considered permanent although it tuned out to be so.
In the early decades, while the Knights continued to develop and fortify the island, both their task and their recruitment was adversely affected by the religious divisions now dislodging whole areas of the continent from the Roman obedience. Nevertheless, in the twenty-seven years between their first arrival and the election of La Valette as Grand Master in 1557, there were many significant changes to the island. But not enough to satisfy this unique and single-minded leader, who, anticipating the long-term strategy of the Turks, immediately set about enlarging the existing defences and constructing new ones. La Valette was that sometimes rare species of religious person for his or any other epoch, who from his first joining the Order at the age of 20 was wholly dedicated to its aims and interests. It is recorded of him that he never left the Convent except to carry out his duties towards the Order. Fluent in five languages –Turkish and Arabic being two acquired by him during a year spent as a galley slave until the Order arranged his exchange for corsair prisoners in 1542 – he was intelligent as well as imaginative. Later coming to hold nearly all the important positions that existed, both in mind and character he was to prove the ideal leader for the ordeal that challenged and threatened the security of Mediterranean Europe and the existence of the Knights principal domain in the fateful year of 1565.

The story of that history-changing siege that stalled the advance of the Ottomans cannot be told in detail this evening. It would be long in the telling and its ending is already well-known to us and is one part of the reason for today’s Feast. The significance of the other part is rooted as much in the traditional devotion and fidelity to the Mother of God as to her providential intercession in those fateful months of epic struggle with vastly superior forces. This devotion within the Order had been for a long time focused on an icon which came to be known in Rhodes as Our Lady of Philermo and was brought by it as one of its chief treasures to Malta. The exemplary courage and heroism manifested by those Knights who withstood the siege was not just the result of natural tenacity and physical endurance. Yes, that did play a part but there were many times during the siege when it appeared to them that only divine intervention could same them from being overrun.

The raising of the siege after three months at the sight of an approaching Christian fleet on almost the day of our Lady’s Nativity was accepted by them as a sign of deliverance that was miraculous. The chronicler of the siege, Franceso Balbi, later wrote that on that day the bells which had normally summoned the defenders to battle now “ summoned us to a Pontifical High Mass, sung very early, to thank God and His Blessed Mother for the mercies they had bestowed upon us.” These memories of victories achieved and hostile forces overcome should be remembered as rallying calls to us today in our united efforts to be equally determined in defence of the faith and similarly devout in our confidence that the intercession of Our Lady and our other Patrons will not fail us in the hour of need. Heaven sometimes appears slow to respond and often tests our patience and our sincerity. But when the answer comes and the struggle is over the appearance of delay often produces its own rationale. Put simply by Our Lord Himself, God’s ways are not our ways. We are especially blessed in now having among our images of devotion an inspiring copy of the original icon, which will be blessed this evening and will serve to link us with our glorious past as well as providing us with an impulse to imitate its fidelity and fruitfulness. May we continue to derive joy in our annual commemoration of this Day and hope in its example of prayers answered and victory to the religious truth for which the Order has always stood firm. 
Saint John's Wood,

The Nativity of Our Lady, 2011.
Detail of the coat-of-arms on the Chasuble. (Click to enlarge)